No-one is left out in Japan when it comes to celebratory days. There are days dedicated to elderly people, adults, the labour force and children, to name but a few. As if those weren’t enough, there’s also a boy’s day and, this Saturday on March 3rd, it’s Hinamatsuri, which is just for the girls.
Hinamatsuri translates as Doll Festival and is dedicated to wishing health and happiness for little girls. Everywhere in Japan turns various shades of pink in celebration – from the dolls on sale to sweets and cakes as well as the thousands of konbini, or convenience stores.
Pink has become associated with Hinamatsuri because the festival is also called “Momo no sekku” or Peach Festival, as it falls at the time of year when peach blossom starts to appear. The origin of the festival comes from China during the Heian era and was traditionally an aristocratic celebration. However, it soon spread to Japan and gave everyone a reason to dress up and have a good time.
So how do people celebrate?
Several days before Hinamatsuri, every family with young girls creates a Hinaman – a red stand made up from several tiers upon which are placed Hina Ningyo, beautifully-decorated dolls specially dedicated to this festival. They are supposed to represent the Emperor and the Empress along with musicians and other attendants all wearing traditional court attire. However, they come in all shapes and sizes – from rabbits to Hello Kitty.
The dolls were once held to be effigies, which divert evil spirits away from the daughters of the household. Once upon a time they were made from straw, set alight then floated down a river to carry away any bad juju.
New dolls are often bought by a family when the first baby girl is born, but it is not unheard of for dolls to be handed down, generation to generation. The dolls must be set up in their order of importance with the Emperor & Empress dolls at the top and then the others in a specific order of descent on the tiers before.
The stand is then finished off with sprigs of peach blossom.
What do people eat?
As you’d expect, one of the main focuses of the day is the family getting together to enjoy a meal. Traditional dishes such as Chirashi-zushi – sushi-rice topped with raw fish and other lucky ingredients, clam soup, Hina-arare (colorful rice crackers), and Hishimochi (diamond-shaped multi-coloured rice cakes) all washed down with Shirozake -white-sake.
Parties are often organised for the little girls too where the traditional food is served (other than the sake!).
The Hinadan stand is usually taken down on 4th March as it is believed that leaving it any longer will result in a delayed marriage for the eldest daughter.